Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon written by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez

Published by Peachtree Publishers

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Summary:  Starting with President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 commitment to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade, and ending with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s historic 1969 walk on the moon, this free-verse history covers the history of the Apollo space missions.  The heartbreak of Kennedy’s assassination and the fatal Apollo 1 fire set the stage for the enormous determination that was required to design and build the vehicles that could safely transport astronauts to the moon and back. Each Apollo mission is described, followed by two pages that show photos and give profiles of the astronauts on each one.  The large, pastel portraits realistically render the people, places, and technology that were all part of the Apollo program. Includes author’s and illustrator’s notes, additional information about Team Apollo and bringing Apollo 11 home (with photos), and a list of books and websites with additional information. 144 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  A fascinating look at an exciting and important chapter in the history of space exploration.  The free verse format makes for a fairly quick and easy read, but there is still plenty of information packed into the text and back matter.  The beautiful oversized illustrations bring immediacy to the story.

Cons:  As a big fan of the movie Apollo 13, I was disappointed that the narrative ended with Apollo 11.

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Ski Soldier: A World War II Biography by Louise Borden

Published by Calkins Creek

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Summary:  Growing up in Sharon, Massachusetts, Pete Siebert taught himself to ski on an old pair of wooden skis he found in his parents’ barn.  As he got older, his parents took him and his sister to the White Mountains of New Hampshire, where he became a proficient racer and vowed to one day open his own ski resort.  After graduating high school, he enlisted in the army, the 10th Mountain Division of soldiers on skis. After training in the Colorado Rockies, the division was shipped overseas to Italy, where they took part in a daring nighttime attack on Germans in the Apennines Mountains.  Pete was wounded so severely doctors weren’t sure he would walk again, but he was determined to ski. He persevered and recovered enough to make the 1950 U.S. men’s ski team. And in 1962, his boyhood dream came true when he opened the Vail Ski Resort in Colorado. Includes additional information about Pete Seibert and the 10th Mountain Division, as well as a list of sources.  176 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  Told in verse, with plenty of photos, this story will appeal to skiers and World War II buffs.  It’s a quick read, but the story is engaging, and readers will learn a lot about Pete and an unusual chapter in military history.

Cons:  The cover makes the book look kind of old.

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Have You Heard About Lady Bird? Poems About Our First Ladies by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

Published by Disney-Hyperion

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Summary:  As she did for the Presidents in Rutherford B., Who Was He?, Marilyn Singer has written a poem for every First Lady from Martha Washington (“‘Lady Presidentess,’ dear wife of our first leader,/did not bemoan, she set the tone,/for all who would succeed her”) to Melania Trump (“She learned languages, changed her name,/married into fortune, embraced new fame”).  Each is accompanied by a picture of the First Lady in some scene from her term. Includes a page on “Being the First Lady”, several pages of thumbnail portraits and brief profiles of each woman, and a list of sources for additional information. 56 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  These easily accessible poems are a fun way to introduce kids to the wide variety of women who have served as First Lady, and the way the job has changed over time.

Cons:  Some of the poems about the less well-known First Ladies may be a little confusing to kids without any background knowledge.

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Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera, illustrated by Lauren Castillo

Published by Candlewick

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Summary:  Former U.S. Poet Laureate tells the story of his life in a poem inviting readers to imagine his past and their own futures.  Starting off as a little boy who loved nature (“If I picked chamomile flowers as a child/in the windy fields and whispered/to their fuzzy faces,/imagine”), he shows his life as a child of migrant farm workers, having to repeatedly leave his home and friends, and going to school not knowing any English.  He loved his new language, using it to write poetry, then learning music so he could turn his poems into songs. Each sentence ends with the word “imagine”. He concludes: “If I stood up/wearing a robe/in front of my familia and many more/on the high steps/of the Library of Congress/in Washington, D.C., and/read out loud and signed/my poetry book/like this–/Poet Laureate of the United States of America/Imagine what you could do.”  32 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  This picture book-length poem allows Herrera to tell his own amazing story as well as to inspire kids to follow their own dreams.

Cons:  I almost cried when I got to the end and there was no author’s note or biography to give more information about Herrera.

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Lifeboat 12 by Susan Hood

Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  As the London Blitz begins, 13-year-old Ken Sparks is sent on the SS City of Benares as part of a group of 90 children evacuating to Canada.  He is glad to go, both to get away from the bombing and because he feels unwanted by his stepmother.  The ship is luxurious, and when the crew assures them they’ve passed the danger zone for torpedoes, the kids relax and enjoy themselves.  During the first night of “safety”, there’s an explosion, and all passengers are hurried to the lifeboats. The Benares has been hit by the Germans and is sinking fast.  Ken is assigned to Lifeboat 8, but forgets his coat, and after running back to get it, ends up on Lifeboat 12.  When the sun rises, they are alone at sea: six boys, one of their chaperones (the only woman), a Catholic priest, and a few dozen crewmen.  They drift for many days, enduring hunger, thirst, trench foot, and the unknown of whether they will live or die. There are many examples of heroism, and Ken plays a part in their rescue with his knowledge of different aircraft.  There’s a happy ending for Lifeboat 12, although many others were not so lucky, including all those assigned to Lifeboat 8. Ken gets a huge welcome home, assuring him that he is loved and cherished by his father, stepmother, and 3-year-old sister.  Includes many pages of additional information, resources, and photographs, including a reassuringly healthy one of Ken Sparks in 2015 at age 88. 336 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  This extensively-researched novel in verse will attract all kinds of readers with its edge-of-your-seat suspense and historical detail.  Fans of the I Survived series will enjoy this real-life World War II adventure featuring kids much like themselves.

Cons:  It was not particularly relaxing reading all the details of the many days at sea.  I do hope I never suffer from trench foot.

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Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransom

Published by Holiday House

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Summary:  There’s nothing good about Chicago, as far as Langston is concerned.  It’s 1946, and after the death of his mother, his father has decided to move north, happy to get a job in a paper factory and leave behind his sharecropping days in Alabama.  But Langston is picked on at school for being “country” and misses his mother and old home terribly.  Trying to avoid a bully one day, Langston gets lost and finds himself at the George Cleveland Hall Library.  His experience of libraries is that they’re for white folks only, so he’s surprised to learn that not only are other black people going inside, but that the library celebrates African-American culture. Quite by accident, he finds a book by his namesake, Langston Hughes, and discovers a writer who expresses much of his own longing for home.  Gradually, the younger Langston learns how he got his name and that his mother was connected to poetry and Langston Hughes as well. The library changes everything, and by the end of the story, young Langston and his father are beginning to create a new life for themselves in Chicago. Includes an author’s note with more information about the Chicago Black Renaissance and the Hall Library.  112 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  This brief gem would make a perfect introduction to historical fiction.  Each character has been created with sympathy and insight, and the reader will learn about post-World War II Chicago along with Langston.  There’s also enough of Langston Hughes’s poetry included to make this a good jumping-off place for further exploration.

Cons:  A little more back matter about Hughes and the full text of some of the poems quoted in the story would have been a nice addition.

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With My Hands: Poems About Making Things by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, pictures by Lou Fancher & Steve Johnson

Published by Clarion Books

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Summary:  These 25 poems celebrate the act of creation, starting with one entitled “Maker” and ending with “With My Hands”.  In between are poems about knitting, tie dying, soap carving, and a host of other projects. There are a few concrete poems (“Knitting” and “Glitter”); a few don’t rhyme, but most so.  Each poem is accompanied by a colorful collage illustration of kids and the creation described in the poem. 32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A fun collection that will inspire young makers.  All the projects are low-tech and most could be done in some version by preschoolers.

Cons:  Another dimension could have been added to the book by including project instructions to go with the poems.

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